Expect the Unexpected With ASUNA’s ‘100 Keyboards’

By Mathew Wilkins

Photo by Minoru Sato

Imagine a performance where no spoilers need alerting. Where the beginning, middle, and end are fully known to everyone there – and no one minds at all. 100 Keyboards by Japanese sound artist ASUNA is just that: a piece that explores the sonic interaction between a predetermined amount of toy keyboards playing in unison in an enclosed space. What results, however, is something that is incomparable, transient, and (nearly) indescribable.
“In this site-specific listening experience, I would like you to listen to the subtle variations of sound interference and resonance,” ASUNA describes.

These ‘subtle interferences’ are created using a formula that’s actually quite simple. The keyboards – usually more than 100 of them – are arranged in concentric circles, with the artist moving from the inside to the edge. A single note is played on each before moving onto the next, but a small stick is lodged into the key before moving on, to ensure that each note continues playing for the duration of the performance. What results is an eerie, overlapping cacophony of sound that shifts and transforms based on location, space, and movement.

“Complex interference and resonance in the space can reveal different sound[s]… I hope listeners will listen carefully to the phenomenon of those sounds and will discover an experience of new sounds in each,” ASUNA adds.
The inspiration for this and other projects arose from a number of important influences in ASUNA’s life, including several artists inside and outside Japan like Wrk, Murray Schafer, and The Nihilist Spasm Band. Before working in sound installation, ASUNA played computer-based music in the late ‘90s and had a brief stint in a lo-fi experimental punk outfit – both of which, according to him, granted the artist a “distinct point of view on the conceptual and physical effects of the phenomenon of sound.”

Yet ASUNA’s interest in sonic sensation seems to have truly began in his parents’ thread spinning factory, where he enjoyed listening to the machines and their motors in his childhood.

“I am aiming to produce works that update the context of art and music,” ASUNA says of his current and upcoming body of work, which seems to frequently utilize mundane musical phrases or sound-making objects.

Works like 100 Toys, for instance, employs the same formula as 100 Keyboards, yet with – you guessed it – children’s toys. ASUNA’s latest record Tide Ripples takes predictable fingerstyle guitar that slowly melts into a sea of sonic chaos. These and many other pieces seem predicated on that idea of “updating context.” Whether it’s toys, keyboards, or fingerstyle guitars, ASUNA takes objects that we think we understand and turns them on their head. In not so many words: you may think you know what you’re in for when you attend a 100 Keyboards performance, but in all likelihood, you’re wrong. In this case, hearing is believing.

100 Keyboards takes place on January 19 at the Russian Hall as part of the PuSh Festival.

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